A trial scheduled for September will determine whether the family and its buddies owe a huge tax bill. The last time prosecutors went after the Wildensteins, several years ago, they demanded €866m – €616m in back taxes and a €250m fine, plus a prison sentence for Gaye. The consequences could do more than just bring down the family’s artistic empire. The case has provided an extraordinary view of how the rich use the art market to evade taxes, and sometimes worse. Agents who raided Wildenstein’s vaults found artwork that had long been reported missing, prompting speculation that the family may have owned artwork looted or stolen by the Nazis, and prompted a number of other lawsuits against the family in recent years. Prosecutors allege that the financial distortions saved the family hundreds of millions of dollars, but their treatment of Sylvia could cost them much more – and potentially lead to the disintegration of their dynasty.
with a purpose To prove that Alec and Jay misled Sylvia about her husband’s property, Dumont-Peggy first needed to find out what assets they had reported. But because Sylvia gave away her inheritance, she didn’t even have the right to obtain that information. “Every check, every bank statement, every stock item in the estate, every document relating to Daniel Wildenstein’s succession is in Jay and Alec’s hands,” Dumont-Peggy says, and they had no intention of handing it over.
Dumont-Peggy’s first step was to ask the court to annul the agreement Sylvia had signed to give up her inheritance. Only then can she access details about Daniel’s estate. Fortunately, she had a compelling precedent to bring to the judge. Sylvia wasn’t the first wife the Wildensteins had tried to cut short by invoking poverty: Alec’s first wife, Jocelyn Wildenstein, was similarly stripped of the family fortune during their 1999 divorce, with Alec claiming he was his father’s unpaid personal assistant. . Documents unearthed in court in New York – where the couple primarily live – value the family’s art collection at nearly $10 billion. The judge in the case said Alec’s income statement “insults the court’s intelligence”; He settled for $3.8 billion, which would be the largest divorce settlement in New York history. (Jocelyn denies that the settlement amounted to $3.8 billion, but admits it was “massive.”)
If the family was worth billions at the time, Dumont-Peggy said, there was reason to suspect that Daniel, who orchestrated the deal between Alec and Jocelyn, died just two years later of devastating debt. The French court orders Jay and Alec to deliver a declaration of Daniel’s estate. It included some property in France, a few cars, paintings and bank accounts, totaling €42 million. Dumont-Péguy didn’t think that figure was anywhere near the real value of the property, but still said, “It’s nothing, for someone who died penniless.” This, Dumont-Peggy reasoned, showed that Sylvia had given up her inheritance under false pretenses.
Dumont Peggy’s next step was to obtain Daniel’s medical records. She learns that he spent his last days in an unresponsive vegetative coma – yet he apparently signed a contract to sell 69 thoroughbred horses (including Sylvia) to his sons for a bargain price. In 2005, the court accepted Silvia’s request to annul her waiver. It was just the beginning of what Dumont-Peggy called an international “treasure hunt” for every hidden masterpiece, undisclosed possessions and offshore account left outside Daniel’s estate.